Birding in Langkawi with JUngle WallaWIDE SPREAD WINGS

An advertorial by Kamila Delart

Since I arrived in Langkawi, my days begin with a beautiful ritual: Still a little sleepy, I sit on my back porch, sip delicious green tea with a few drops of local wild honey, and watch all these beautiful exotic birds twirling around. There are the tiny yellow fellows joyfully singing as they jump from branch to branch. The black one with his far too long wings that look as if they were borrowed from some grown-up brother.  And when I’m lucky, I spot this beautiful turquoise bird with orange belly crossing my river. What a wonderful way to greet the day!  

But as time passes, the brilliant spectacle is not enough. I want to know the names of my cheerful garden visitors. I’m curious to learn about their mating habits, anxious not to miss the time when  their babies take their first lessons in free flying. And so I sign up for an afternoon birding with JUNGLEWALLA, a local adventure company famous for their birding and escorted nature and wildlife tours.

Our guide, Wendy, brings us by a van to rice fields, and explains how to use our binoculars. And although there is enough to admire with one’s naked eye, once we look through the magnifying lenses, a whole new world opens up! There is a flock of White-headed Munias. Hundreds of them! And we spot the Blue-tailed Bee-eater. A very smart bird. When catching a bee, he smashes it against a branch until the sting falls off, and he can safely enjoy his favourite delicacy. 

Just ten meters away from us, there is a Water Buffalo. Tired out by the tropical heat, he plunges into the swamp, and wallows with relish in mud - surrounded by a group of   gracious white Cattle Egrets. As the buffalo gets up again, one of the birds jumps on his back, looking for tasty insects hidden in his fur. Lazily chewing on some grass stalks, the Buffalo doesn’t seem to be overly bothered. Only when the Egret gets a little cheeky, tickling him with his pecker between the eyes, the buffalo loses his patience, and abruptly ends the peaceful siesta.

Our next stop is a tiny mangrove strip close to Kuala Melaka. Wendy excitedly points at the Lesser Whistling Duck and the Chinese Pond Heron with his beautiful reddish head. And then we discover a few retort shaped nests artfully woven from leaves, hanging from a branch over the mangrove channel. Wendy explains that they are built by the male Baya Weaver. Apparently, the female is rather picky.  If her high standards are not met upon inspecting the newly built ‘house’, her admirer better starts building a new one. From scratch.  Hmmm…  I’m not sure how my boyfriend will feel about this story. But I kind of like the concept. I lady should not have to compromise when it comes to a home.

  Back in the van, we drive towards Gunung Raya - with 881 meters above sea level the highest mountain on the island. As the van follows the winding road, climbing to the top of the hill,  the air gets a little chilly, refreshing after the tropical heat in the paddy fields.

When Wendy asks our driver to halt, I am excited to have the opportunity to admire the spectacular view. Close to the very top, we overlook the entire island covered in lush foliage, surrounded by the emerald green Andaman Sea strewn with tiny dots of deserted islands. The sun sets slowly in, painting the sky in orange and crimsons hues. A breathtaking vista. Hard to top! Or so I think until Wendy reveals the true reason of our stop. Knowing the island by heart, she brought us to a very special spot.

There is this loud whooshing sound above our heads, and as we look up towards the sky, we see in the distance more than twenty Great Hornbills. With the air being forced through the primary feathers of their wings, the sound, hearable from more than half a mile away, is incredibly powerful. I assume that the birds will just pass. But instead, all of them land on a tree barely twenty meters away.  Choosing the highest branches, they look for a cozy spot to spend the night. They draw their necks back, and as the dusk sets in, they close their eyes, and retreat in the world of dreams. It is meanwhile too dark to see anything. And yet, we are unable to move from our spots. Overwhelmed by the breathtaking spectacle! 

Having finally managed to get us back into the van, Wendy hands each of us a hand-written note with all the names of birds we have seen today. More than thirty! Beyond excited, I promise to myself to get my own binoculars, and a bird atlas. - To get some practice before joining another unforgettable birding tour with JUNGLEWALLA

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